Joe-Max Moore: From Tulsa To The Hall Of Fame
by Blake Fogg
Feb 10, 2014 1:19 PM EST
Joe-Max Moore was bred to run. Moore spent his childhood playing soccer on plowed farm fields, and following a successful career with stops in Germany, England, and MLS was inducted in the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame. To watch Moore play is an exercise in itself. His constant balls-out effort is as exhausting as a 120-minute match. “There are probably more talented players than me, quicker players, guys who could jump higher,” says Moore. “But I feel like I never played against anyone who outworked me.“ Moore has been a staple of the rise in popularity of soccer in America for about ten years, sharing attacking duties with Brian McBride and Eric Wynalda; chasing through balls from midfielders Claudio Reyna and John Harkes; cultivating the next generation with the likes of Landon Donavan and DeMarcus Beasley. Now, Moore is still continuing to grow the game. He has been brought on to help develop the soccer website Football.com. Moore deems that this could one day be the No. 1 soccer website in world. But for all the ways that Moore seems like the consummate representative of American soccer, he says that this was hardly the case. “I was a tiny little guy. I was 5-foot-3, weighed 130 pounds when I was recruited to play at UCLA,” Moore says. “(UCLA coach Sigi Schimdt) saw something and gave me a chance to play with the big boys.” If it wasn’t his size, it must be his technical ability that set Moore apart from the pack. His father Carl, a Tulsa businessman, built a regulation soccer field behind their house where his son Joe would practice free-kicks everyday, even bringing in former Yugoslavian international Milan Dovedan to train his son’s team. Or getting a first hand glimpse of professional players from his father’s co-owned Tulsa Roughnecks of the now defunct NASL, where he would sometimes serve as the ball boy. After growing six inches and gaining 25 pounds, Moore got a shot with the national team. His first cap came against Canada in a 2-0 win. Moore says he didn’t play a great game but rather got the job done. But this followed with an opportunity to play professionally. After he won a national championship with UCLA, in 1992, he signed a professional contract with USMNT in preparation to the 1994 World Cup. Moore is far from an imposing figure, but he could play and outwork you. He hopscotched between skill and work ethic: curling precision free kicks, harmonized give-and-go’s with the midfield; chasing down lost causes; nipping at opponents’ heals; sacrificing his body in order to win. At the Hall of Fame ceremony, Wynalda praised Moore’s competitive nature, “We use to play five-a-side with three captains and here’s how it worked. ‘Am I going first, okay, Joe-Max’. Everyone picked Joe-Max first because if you wanted to win you wanted Joe on your team.” Over 20 years ago, the USMNT operated as a peculiar unit. The U.S. Soccer Federation signed players to contracts making the national side a de facto ‘club team’. Leading up to the 1994 World Cup, the players trained in facilities that weren’t completed in time. For awhile, their locker room was across the street from the training fields in a rented strip mall space in Mission Viejo, Calif. FIFA awarded the then soccer-phobic U.S. to host the World Cup, and if you asked almost anyone leading up to the tournament, they wouldn’t know anything about it. The U.S. drew against then powerhouse Colombia, Switzerland and Romania. The U.S. tied the Swiss, upset Colombia and lost to Romania. Then, advancing to the next round before barely losing 1-0 to Brazil. The U.S..’s impressive performance started a movement. Public perception had changed. Suddenly, this group of players received recognition not only in their own country, but on the world stage. Like Paris in 1920s, Americans started to invade Europe: Wynalda, Reyna, Chris Henderson, Alexi Lalas, Jeff Agos, and Brad Friedal took the opportunity; so did Moore. Moore transferred to the German second division side Saarbrücken, located in an area discussed more in history lessons than football circles. Moore had a rocky start, going goalless in his first eight games. Once accustomed to the culture and learning the native language, he found his legs; only realizing afterwards that all his teammates spoke perfect English, much to his surprise. He became the team’s top scorer and even putting himself in their record books as the fastest player to score a hat trick. He then transferred to fellow second division rivals FC Nuremberg, and again, became the team’s top scorer. “Germany fit my style of play pretty well. There’s a lot tight ball control, short passes and just people working like a machine,” says Moore In 1996, Moore answered the call. The U.S.. opened Major League Soccer and Moore joined the New England Revolution. Success was just around the corner, but the 1998 World Cup arrived and dampened American spirits about soccer. A team poised to be even better than the last imploded; with infighting, alleged affairs and a new tactical system; before the ball was even kicked, it had disaster written all over it. The U.S.. didn’t gain a single point and finished worst out of the 32 teams. But individual success in Germany and with New England opened the door for Moore to enter one of the biggest leagues in soccer—the English Premier League. In 1999, Moore joined Everton on a three-year-deal and he couldn’t have started any better. In his first five matches, he scored four times. It was perfect. Then Everton coach Walter Smith blew it all up. The following summer Smith shipped out international players Don Hutchison, Nick Barmby and John Collins; all players Moore seemed to be in synch with; and brought in Duncan Ferguson and all 6-foot-5 of him. Instead of playing the technical game Moore loved, Everton started pumping balls up to Ferguson’s head and see if Moore guessed right on the direction of his header, rendering his trademark skill set useless and marginalizing his playing time. As playing time decreased and a desire to play more games increased, Moore moved back with the Revolution at the end of the 2002 season. His stint at Everton wasn’t the end of career defining moments In Oct. 7, 2001 America launched the “War on Terror”. American troops were headed to Afghanistan and the USMNT had a crucial World Cup qualifying match against Jamaica in Boston. As many Americans mainly focused on the world’s affairs, Moore, perhaps, played the best game of his life. Moore played inspired soccer and found the net twice securing a World Cup spot for the U.S. In the match he scored a pressure packed penalty. “I knew the importance that penalty had. I had a clear and made up mind when I stepped up to take it,” says Moore of the moment. “I just wanted to hit hard and in the corner, and it worked out.” From there, the U.S. found themselves in an opening World Cup match against favorites Portugal. The match was memorable one for the U.S.. as it ended in victory but for the forward it started constant stints on the training table. After contesting for a header, Moore felt a pop in his knee. As the constant competitor that he is, he tried to keep going but rather surreally his last game for the U.S. was in the last group stage match against Poland; his 100th cap. He ended his career as the third top scorer in U.S.. history with 24 goals. He was member of the first U.S. team to gain a point in the Azteca Arena against fierce rival Mexico. And again, versus Mexico started the first string of 2-0 victories or now more commonly known as the “Dos-a-Cero” games. From the World Cup in 1994 to the World Cup in 2002, Moore was instrumental in growing the game of soccer in the United States. And on Oct. 11, 2013, Moore answered the call one last time. This time in front of a podium; with friends and family; his father, who plowed fields so his son can play on; and wearing the red blazer of the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame.